A Dinner For Charles Lindbergh

In the 1920s it was quite common for there to be dinner parties that were pretty casual but bigger and a little more formal than a regular family-friend event. Along with these forms of parties there were also larger, much more formal, celebrations. These were very big events called banquets. At these banquets there would usually be around 100 individuals who were invited to celebrate in honor of someone. The range of people invited would often scale with the person being celebrated or the person who was hosting the party. At these banquets there would be menus for the evening. The food featured on the menu would be fancier and cooked more professionally. For bigger events they would hire the best chefs in the area to curate the food for the evening. On the menus there were usually appetizers like fruit cocktails, consomme breadsticks, olives, and salted nuts. They usually had a soup and salad option on menus as well. For the main course there was usually some type of fish meat offered or a chicken dish such as chicken a la king. At all of these events they would have nice desserts for the end of the night. Things like pudding macaroons, angel cake squares, fancy pound cakes, and intricate ices were the main dishes for the night. This is the type of event that was used for Charles Lindbergh’s dinner in Maryland.

Charles Lindbergh reached new levels of fame in the year 1927. He accomplished a great new feat in the world of aviation. On May 20th he embarked on a historic journey in his plane called the Spirit of St. Louis. He left from a dirt runway in Roosevelt field in New York. He flew the Spirit of St. Louis for about 34 hours, by himself. He flew all the way to Paris, France without stopping once. This historic flight was the first solo, non-stop, transatlantic flight to ever  be done. This accomplishment put Charles into the spotlight. He was arguably one of the biggest names around the world in 1927. Shortly after his flight there was a celebratory dinner in his honor in Baltimore, Mayland.

Baltimore City Life Museum Collection 8×10 inch Glass Negatives Box 03 Photo Credit: John Bennaman Sep 6 2011

Organizers chose Baltimore’s Lyric Theater to host the banquet thrown for Charles Lindbergh. The theatre was built in the 1890’s and it was a big, rectangular, brick building with the words “THE LYRIC” printed on it. On the inside of the building was an elegant music hall. There were two levels of seating facing the stage where operas would take place. The building did eventually go through some renovations in the early 1900’s before Charles Lindbergh’s honorary dinner. The dinner took place on October 18th, 1927, just a few months after the flight. This was a very big event for all of Maryland because Lindbergh’s achievement made international news. Since Lindbergh was so popular there were some important people invited to the dinner party. Some of the speakers for this night were the Mayor of Baltimore, Hon. William F. Broening, the Governor of Maryland, Hon. Albert C Ritchie, and the United States Secretary of Labor, Hon. James J. Davis. For this type of event the menu offered seems very standard. On the menu for this banquet there was an array of appetizers including fruit cocktail, celery, salted almonds, olives, and mints. These appetizers were pretty standard for the time period. The side items offered were peas au beurre and rissole potato.  The two options for the main course were fried filet of sole with tartar sauce or a roast squab. They finished off the night with an assortment of cakes for dessert along with an Ices Lindbergh. This ice would be made special in order to honor Charles Lindbergh. 

Most of the items on the menu were pretty basic, especially for the 1920s. Everything up to the fried filet of sole was commonplace at dinner events. The two things that were special about this menu were the roast squab and the ices lindbergh. The ices lindbergh would have been a specially molded dessert that most likely represented something about Charles’ accomplishments. This would have been the show stopper to end the night with so, of course it must be special. The squab on the other hand is special for different reasons. Squab was sort of a delicacy back then and has been for quite some time. It has allegedly been eaten since since Ancient Egypt. Squab is the meat of a young domesticated pigeon that is usually only around four weeks old. Despite it’s history of being a meal for thousands of years, it never really became a popular dish. Before this menu I had never even heard of squab. It is served at many different restaurants that are usually higher quality. Even today squab is still rare and somewhat of a delicacy. The taste is often described as a juicier dark chicken meat. I am very curious to know what squab tastes like and the process of roasting it. So I will be roasting my own squab with a recipe from the Sunset All-Western Cookbook released back in 1933. 

The recipe that I have is a basic one for roasting a squab. It says to start by cleaning and washing the bird without splitting it open. Then pat it dry and add some salt and pepper. After that, rub melted butter on both the inside and outside of the bird and stuff it with any preferred stuffing. After that the directions say to fasten the legs to the back with skewers, and place it in an oiled baking-pan. At this point, it says to either place bacon strips over the breast or pour some butter on it. The next step is to bake the bird at 500 degrees fahrenheit for 10 minutes before reducing it to 375. Then pour a little water over it and roast it slowly for about 25 minutes or until it is tender. During this roasting time it says to baste it frequently. Once it is done it says to garnish it with watercress and serve with currant jelly. Unfortunately I was unable to find watercress or currant jelly. However I was able to find a four berry jam and one of the four berries in the ingredients is red currants so I used that. 

Now Lets do some cooking!

Here in the picture are most of my ingredients: The bird, crushed red peppers, pepper, salt, parsley, butter and bay leaves (I forgot the thyme, crackers, cayenne seasoning, and jam in the photo). Also I do not have a real roasting pan so I used a small glass baking dish instead. So let’s get started.  I began by preheating my oven to 500 degrees fahrenheit and while it was preheating I washed and dried the bird. I then melted a bit of butter, rubbed some salt and pepper into the meat and coated it in melted butter. Then I stuffed the bird with some crushed crackers mixed with bay leaves and thyme. Then I mixed the rest of the melted butter with some thyme, cayenne pepper spice, and crushed red peppers to add a little kick and put it into the pan. 

At this point the oven had preheated so I opened the oven and put it in for ten minutes. Once the ten minutes were up I reduced the temperature to 375 degrees fahrenheit and poured a little water over it.

I set the timer to twenty-five minutes and throughout this time I basted the bird four times. Once the timer was up I took the bird out of the oven and this is how it looked when it was all finished roasting.

The roasted squab

Now the recipe says to garnish the dish with some watercress but I was unable to find any in stores. The recipes also stated that it should be served with a currant jam. Unfortunately, I also was unable to find currant jelly but I did find a four berry jam that included red currants in the ingredients. So to serve the dish I layed out a small bed of the jelly onto a plate like so. I put it into an “S” shape for squab but this is not necessary.

Once the spread of the jam was all laid out I took the cooked bird and placed it right on top and this was the final product. 

I think that this project turned out a lot better than I thought it would. I have hardly any cooking experience and I never cooked a whole bird before. Preparing and cooking the whole thing myself was really interesting and I found it a little difficult. I could not imagine how difficult it would be to cook enough of these for a whole banquet. The taste was exquisite and I definitely see why this meal is somewhat of a delicacy. It makes sense that this was a meal for someone like Charles Lindbergh.

Sources

Callahan, Genevieve A., and Heath Anderson. Sunset All-Western Cook Book: How to Select, Prepare, Cook, and Serve All Typically Western Food Products. Recipes Included for Favorite Regional and Foreign Dishes Peculiar to the West. San Francisco, CA: Lane Publishing Co., 1936. 

“The Lyric Theatre Menu.” menus.nypl.org, 1927. http://menus.nypl.org/menu_pages/64357/explore. 

Olver, Lynne. “Popular 20th Century American Foods.” The Food Timeline: popular American decade foods, menus, products & party planning tips, February 27, 2015. http://www.foodtimeline.org/fooddecades.html. 

“What Is Squab or Pigeon?” AskUSDA, July 17, 2019. https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/What-is-squab-or-pigeon.

Benjamin, John. “Lyric Opera House.” Cinema Treasures, 2011. http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/27132/photos/193626.